Regular, quality sleep is a restorative balm for the soul. It improves your mood and gives you the bandwidth to handle the roller-coaster of life!
However, if you struggle with insomnia, depression, or seasonal affective disorder, there’s a good chance your circadian rhythm is out of balance, making sleep difficult.
Understanding the circadian rhythm
The circadian rhythm is the internal 24-hour cycle – the internal body clock – that controls wakefulness, body temperature, blood pressure, appetite, and hormone secretion. This rhythm is extremely sensitive to light stimuli. Darkness triggers the brain to secrete the sleep hormone melatonin in the evening, while morning sunlight suppresses melatonin and increases alertness.
For our ancestors, sunrise and sunset naturally set the internal clock. Unfortunately, artificial lighting, bright screens, and other lifestyle habits have thrown this cycle off balance. It plays havoc with your sleep quality – and research shows it’s disastrous for mental health.
The link between your circadian rhythm and depression
Do you struggle with nighttime insomnia but easily sleep for hours during the day?
According to research, if you have depression or another mood disorder, your brain has trouble following a healthy 24-hour rhythm . Misalignments between your internal and external environments interfere with sleep timing, hormone rhythms, and mood regulation.
Essentially, this creates a vicious cycle of poor sleep, depression, anxiety, and low motivation.
Resetting your circadian rhythm for sleep, energy, and mood
Here are 6 actionable tips to resynchronize your circadian rhythm:
1. Expose your skin and eyes to sunlight early in the day
Did you know being outside during the day improves sleep, makes it easier to get up in the morning, and lowers the risk of major depression?
Exposure to sunlight, particularly in the morning, is essential to reorient your circadian rhythm and improve melatonin production in the evening.
We recommend rising at the same time every day and exposing your eyes and skin to morning light for 15-20 minutes outdoors. If this isn’t possible, sit next to a window while you eat your breakfast to get natural light.
Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman also recommends getting outside in the late afternoon/evening to view the low solar angle sunlight for circadian regulation.
2. Exercise in the morning
How you start your day can set you up for great sleep. Just 30-minutes of light to moderate exercise in the first half of the day is a great way to lift your mood and correct circadian timing. Studies show exercise increases restorative sleep and helps you fall asleep faster at night. It also triggers your brain to release feel-good endorphins for happiness and motivation.
The trick is to do exercise you enjoy to stay motivated – even better if you can exercise outdoors in natural light!
3. Keep away from caffeine after noon
Coffee is a nervous system stimulant that delays your sleep-wake cycle by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine. It prevents the chemical from accumulating in the brain and causing sleepiness.
If you’re struggling with poor sleep, avoid caffeine after midday to improve your circadian timing and sleep readiness. Try replacing it with decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea, or a chicory-based coffee substitute.
4. Phase out daytime naps
Napping during the day is a major roadblock to regulating your body clock!
Gradually reducing the length of your nap until you’re no longer sleeping during the day can dramatically improve sleep quality. Start by limiting naps to no more than 30 minutes, and try not to nap after 2 pm.
5. Cut down on artificial light in the evening
There’s a good chance that you – like most people – bombard your eyes with bright blue light from TVs, digital devices, and room lighting every night. Research shows light exposure at night suppresses melatonin production, impairs sleep quality, and creates other issues. For example, night shift workers are significantly more likely to develop depression.
Reduce unnatural light at night to reset your sleep schedule:
– Turn off blue light-emitting screens and devices 1-2 hours before bed.
– Create a wind-down routine free from devices – have a warm bath, meditate, talk to your partner, or listen to an audiobook.
– Replace “cool white” bulbs with warmer orange bulbs free from blue light.
– Wear orange or red-tinted glasses designed to block out blue light.
If you need to work on your laptop at night, you can turn on Night Shift or Night light mode. Most smartphones also have the option to limit blue light, you can search under settings > display > night mode or eye comfort mode.
6. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary
Creating an ideal sleep environment signals to the brain that it’s time to sleep.
Keep it dark: Everyone should sleep in total darkness when possible. We suggest using block-out curtains and removing all digital devices from the bedroom. You can also wear a soft eye mask to avoid artificial light.
Keep it cool: In the evening, your body temperature naturally drops, triggering you to feel drowsy. To support this, wear light-weight cotton pajamas and create a cross-breeze in your bedroom. If you have an air-conditioner, set it to 65-68 °F before you get into bed – studies show this room temperature is ideal for sleep.
Keep it quiet: Avoid noise disturbances by wearing earplugs, removing your smartphone, and keeping pets out of the bedroom.
Resetting and regulating your circadian rhythm is essential for better sleep quality and managing depression.
If you’re still having trouble despite implementing lifestyle changes, you can speak to your doctor about prescribing a melatonin supplement for short-term use.